The Ten Martyrs of Crete

(entered heaven on this day, 250)

Dear Tim,

Maybe you just need a good dose of courage, or a really cold shower.  I can give you neither, though I can remind you of something that may help free you from your current spiritual chains.  Every sin, my young nephew, is a species of idolatry, of seeking your meaning and fulfillment in someone or something that cannot provide it.  By doing so, you turn that someone or something into an idol; you give it divine status, because you are treating it, consciously or not, like God.

Now, idolatry has its advantages, like immediate (though fleeting) pleasures and comforts (the former being more relevant to your current predicament).  And that is why it is always a temptation.  The only thing I can do for you now, since you have fallen into a particularly seductive and ensnaring idolatry, is pray that God will shake you up a little bit – you could help him by repenting and making your way to confession before Christmas.  Wait, that’s not all I can do; I guess I can also remind you of today’s saints, who exhibited the kind of courage you need in their own resistance to idolatry.

The Imperial persecution of Christians under Decius was especially severe on the Island of Crete, where the proconsul had a vehement antipathy towards Christians (their behavior and beliefs bothered his conscience).  On December 23, ten brave Christian men were brought to trial for their faith.  Upon entering the court, they were ordered to sacrifice to Jupiter.  They refused.  They were ordered to do so again.  They refused, explaining the reasons with a simple yet striking eloquence.  The proconsul, his henchmen, and the pagan mob flew into a seething rage, and the Christians were taken to be tortured.  All the ingenuity of pagan cruelty was put at the service of their wrath, and the saints suffered excruciating torments.  They were whipped with leaden whips that broke and dislocated their bones; they were stretched on the rack and ripped with iron nails until pieces of their flesh littered the ground below; and they were pierced with broken glass, sharp reeds, and pointed sticks.  The whole while they were exhorted by the crowd to save themselves by worshiping Jupiter, and they responded, “We are Christians; if a thousand deaths were prepared for us, we would receive them with joy.”  The tortures were intensified, and their meekness increased, until the proconsul had to admit defeat.  He ordered them executed by the sword.

I would encourage you to reflect on the testimony they gave during the trial, applying it to your own situation, and learning from these elder brothers in the faith what sin really is – idolatry.  After they refused to sacrifice to idols, the proconsul responded: “You shall know the power of the great gods. Neither do you show respect to this illustrious assembly, which adores the great Jupiter, Juno, Rhea, and the rest.”  And the future martyrs answered, “Mention not Jupiter, O president: nor his mother Rhea. We are no strangers to his pedigree, or to the history of his life and actions.  We can show you his grave: he was a native of this island, the tyrant of his country, and a man abandoned to every kind of lust, even with his own sex: with these crimes he defiled himself every hour, and made use of spells and enchantments to debauch others. Those who look upon him as a god, must look upon it as a divine thing to imitate his lust and intemperance.”

The pleasures and comforts of this world, especially when unreasonably indulged in, cannot bring you the happiness you seek.  I trust you catch my drift.

Your loving uncle,


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